Make it look professional

Clients often ask me to make a document look ‘professional’. What exactly does professional mean? From my experience, following these tips will help you prepare professional, well-presented documents.

Seek branding guidelines, templates and style guides

These were developed for a reason – so your documents are presented both professionally and in the corporate branding. Talk to your Communications section and find out what they offer. Failing that, keep reading…

Think simple

Remember the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid)? Get your head into that space. The client wants a professional document, not an elaborate work of art.

Get the content first

There’s no point working with dummy text. Get the real words, strip out any formatting (pasting from Notepad helps) and start with that.

Stick with one typeface

Unless you have a very good reason for needing a secondary typeface then use just one.

Use colour with purpose and meaning

Your document should start off as black text on white paper. Add colour sparingly but as required for branding, drawing the reader’s attention, colour coding and so forth. Like all design decisions, justify you reason for using colour.

Make it CRAP

  • Ensure there is sufficient Contrast between foreground and background elements.
  • Use Repetition to build consistency and unity between each section of the document.
  • Choose an Alignment; align all page elements the same way and along common lines.
  • Position elements so their Proximity shows relationships.

Space it out

I hate it when a client wants two pages of text to fit onto one page, for the sake of the document being a ‘one-pager’. Tweak the line spacing and manage the whitespace, so the text and other elements on the page can breathe. If you can’t fit it on one page then cull some words. Don’t sacrifice good presentation for the sake of cramming everything onto a page.

Adjust column width

This is more important for web pages than printed documents. Don’t make text columns span the width of the browser. To enhance readability, aim to make text columns an average width of 15 words per line of text.

Format tables

Subtle changes to tables such as lighter-coloured border strokes, increased cell padding and alternate row shading will make data tables look better and easier to read.

Communicate don’t decorate

Documents provide information. Make sure the content is accurate, grammar is correct, typos are omitted and hyperlinks are working. Consider what the document is trying to communicate and make this the focus of your design decisions.